The Septic Tank
A rough, rocky excuse for a driveway, surrounded by low hanging willow trees, birches, and evergreens keeps an old property hidden from the main road. A clean pickup truck, outfitted for contract work, kicks up dust along the path. It slows to a stop and the door swings open. Rough, brown work boots crunch the gravel as Tom, a man in his early thirties and country strong, adjusts his Handy Brothers baseball hat. His name tag stitched to his sturdy, short sleeved Dickies shirt, stands as a sign of professionalism and pride. An old dog trots up the drive way to greet him. Tom scratches the greying mutt behind the ears. “And who might you be?” Satisfied with Tom, the old dog trots off.
Continuing up the driveway, Tom slows to a standing awe before the gorgeous country home. The mix of rustic country and enormous, modern glass windows is striking. Old money bought this kind of seclusion. The front door swings open and Howard, a slight man in his sixties with thinning hair and watery eyes, steps out and shuffles toward Tom. The dog trots over to Howard. “Go on, Lady.” He tells the dog. He ushers her inside and closes the door behind her. A few pale faces peek out from the darkness behind the giant glass windows.
Tom shouts to the home owner, “Afternoon. I’m Tom from Handy Brothers. Here to check out your tank.” Howard gives him a short wave and keeps on shuffling. “It wasn’t too clear from your phone call; what’s your issue today?”
“I’ll show ya,” the thin man motions to the back yard.
The two men, surrounded by trees, stand over a rusting maintenance hatch. It’s deep enough into the property that the house is out of sight. Howard asks, “Think you could take a look in there? I think one of the walls are cracked. That was the problem I had last time this happened.”
Tom squats down and pries open the metal lid and shines his flashlight into the dark hole beneath them. Its sloppy with glistening muck. Standing water reflects onto the septic tank’s graded surface about an inch deep at the far end—black obscures the unknown depth at the base of the ladder. “How old is the tank?” Tom asks.
“Don’t know. I think most of the water left through a crack on the far side. Could you hop down real quick and take a look?”
Tom shoots him a look of Are you kidding me? before calmly saying “Sir, I’m not equipped for that right now. We’d need to pump it first and I’d need to have more than just my little flash light to take a look.”
“I thought this was supposed to be a free estimate. You can’t give me an estimate without seeing the problem. I’ll happily call up another business.”
That hits Tom a little hard. “I’d rather you didn’t. Let me try a few other things before heading down.”
“My guests can’t use the bathroom, I can’t shower, and the basement is in danger of becoming a wreck. If you aren’t going to head down and look, don’t waste my time and yours. I’ll call another business and put you on your way.”
Howard pulls out his cell phone. Tom looks down into the hole. Back to Howard. “How long has it been like this?”
“Nearly a week. Now, would you please take a look? I’m tired of dealing with this.” Tom looks down into the hole again. He knows he shouldn’t.
“That’s fine. I’ll get someone else.” Howard says. Howard punches some numbers into his phone and puts it to his ear. It rings.
“Alright. We don’t normally do this, especially when we don’t have the personnel or the gear, but I’ll take a quick look for the estimate.” Tom climbs down the ladder into the hole.
Down in the septic tank, sunlight beams in through the clouds of bugs hovering around the opening. Tom’s flashlight shines off of the slick walls. He hops off the ladder and plunges into the water—deeper than he expected—and loses his balance. He pulls his leg up. Soaked to the knee. God, damn it. “Your tank is almost three feet deeper than it should be.” He swivels his flash light over the walls. They’re grimy. He follows the PVC piping along the top of the walls and catches a large open hole near the ceiling. “You know anything about this extra pipe at the top of your tank?”
Slam! Darkness. With the maintenance hatch closed, only his flashlight and a tiny leak from above illuminate the black septic tank. Something heavy rattles against the top of the metal door.
“Hey!” From above, sealed off from Tom, Howard shouts at him. “Can you hear me down there?”
“Yeah. You want to tell me what the fuck is going on here?”
Tom sloshes back over to the ladder and climbs up. He presses against the hatch. It won’t budge.
“Hey!” Still nothing.
He reaches into his cargo pocket and pulls out his phone. It’s soaked and dead. He bangs on the hatch. “Open this up right now!”
“Police?” Tom loudly bluffs. “I’m trapped in a septic tank behind the house at fifty-six fifty-six Old Oak Lane. My life is in danger and a man is preventing me from leaving. Thank you, see you soon.” He closes his flip phone as loud as he can. “The cops are on the way. Open up now and I won’t press charges.” There’s a murmured chatter above. Curious, Tom climbs the ladder and presses his ear up against the hatch. His flashlight taps against the cold metal above him. The murmurs go quiet.
Bang! The metal door above Tom vibrates. Ears ringing, Tom reels backward. Howard stands with his foot planted on the hatch and a thick, leather bound tome is in his hands. He stomps the hatch again—ringing the rusted metal door like the chime of a septic bell. His now silent pale followers stand circled around the hatch with Howard in the middle. Thin lipped and wrinkled, almost hollow, they stare at the hatch as their greedy mouths twitch. Their eyes are open windows to their thirst. Howard shouts down at the hatch. “We need you to be purified before we give you over to the old gods. Are you ready to confess?”
“Very funny. Let me out.”
“Free the rage from your body and you will be a soft morsel for them to savor. Are we ready to begin?”
“You’ve got about five minutes before the cops come breaking down your door.” Tom hurls his shoulder at the hatch. It barely moves under Howard’s weight and the lock.
Howard calls to one of the followers. “Robert, open the pipes, please.” A giant, lumbering man bends down behind a tree and cranks open a valve.
In the septic tank, the pipe near the ceiling yawns and pushes a chunky monsoon into the darkness. Thick islands of matter and sludge wash into the dark tank. A human jaw catches the shine of Tom’s flash light. Tom goes wild and beats against the ceiling hatch. “Let me out!”
“Confess, Tom. The old gods want clean, soft tissue and souls. Confess and give the old gods their due.”
The water fills the tank rapidly. Even though he’s climbed the ladder, the sludge clings to his waist. More bones and hair and feces swirl in the muck around him. Howard stomps on the hatch again. The ringing changing pitch as the water fills the tank. “Your sins, Tom. You don’t have much time!” Tom scans the room for an opening. A crack. Anything. With nothing in sight, he grabs the hatch and pulls on it like a frightened test monkey as the water climbs up to his chest. “Confess your greed!”
“Greed? What greed?”
“You knew you weren’t supposed to go down that hole, Tom. But you wanted my money, you held money above your life. Your only life!”
“I’ve got a wife and kids, man! Let me out!” The water rises to his shoulders.
“Your greed leads you to death, Tom.” Howard and his pale followers listen to the swirling, rushing water in the tank beneath them.
“Fuck you! You put me down here!”
“No, Tom. You said you shouldn’t and you went all the same—for money. You should have reflected on your sins long ago.”
“The only way to cleanse yourself now is to accept that you are filth and that you will die filthy. Pray that the old gods are hungry and will devour you unclean.”
“I’m sorry! I really am! Just let me out!” Tom’s face is tilted barely above the water. His flashlight half submerged, pressing against the ceiling. Howard reads from his book.
“Far from the sea, we do our best to give sacrifice to the deep ones and to the old gods.”
“I’m not greedy! I won’t be greedy! I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I just want to provide for my family! Please! I just want to be with my family! Please!” Tom takes his last breath before the sludge engulfs him.
“We hope what we give today proves our devotion to the deep.” Muffled banging pounds on the hatch beneath Howard. “We are here only to serve.” Water floods out from the hatch and wets the surrounding grass, lush and vibrant. Thud! Thud! The followers repeat after Howard. “We are here only to serve.” Thud! “May our sacrifice to the old gods and the deep ones be accepted.” Thud. The pounding slows. Bubbles find the gaps in the hatch. Thud. Tom’s strength leaves him.
“May our sacrifice to the old gods and the deep ones be accepted.” The hatch is silent. “Mass has ended. Go in service.”
“Go in service.”
The crowd disperses. Robert turns off the valve and the maintenance hatch sits locked beneath a very thin layer of standing water.